Chantaburi is a provincial capital, just over an hour’s drive from the mainland ferry pier for Koh Chang. Anyone heading to Koh Chang from Bangkok or Pattaya will pass it on the way. However, for most visitors to Koh Chang the town and surrounding area are a mystery, they might as well not exist – which is a pity as it is a very interesting area t explore, even if it is just for a day. You can’t see all Chantaburi has to offer in a few hours, and this page isn’t designed to be an all inclusive guide to the area, think of it more as an urging for anyone on Koh Chang to get out of their beach chair and go and see something other than the same stretch of sand for 2 weeks.
In the dim and distant past, i.e. pre 2010, trips to Chantaburi were pretty popular as they included the chance to swim with dolphins at Oasis Seaworld, an aquarium about 30 minutes drive south of the town centre. Nowadays, a few dolphins remain and it is still possible to visit it – but only to see a dolphin show, most of the dolphins having been relocated to a new centre near Pattaya. But if you’re six years old and want to see a dolphin jump through a hoop whilst wearing a funny hat and singing the national anthem, then Oasis still might hold some allure, otherwise skip it.
Chantaburi is also famous as a centre for gems, which is why any tour to Chantaburi also includes a stop at one of the many gem factories / shops where you’ll be given the chance to buy good quality gems at relatively good prices . . . . and where your tour guide will make a nice commission. On the plus side there are now a couple of large gem centres where gemstones and jewellry are sold with official guarantees of quality for buyer’s peace of mind.
But there is far more to Chantaburi than dancing dolphins and dodgy gems. There’s a Robinson’s department store – which is another stop on all tours to the city. Probably because the AC provides a nice respite from the heat outside.
So far so bad. For some unknown reason tours to Chantaburi skip things that might be of interest to people looking for a day away from Koh Chang. The city and surroundings have a rich history and there are numerous natural attractions worth going out of your way for too.
Things you’ll need: Transport is the obvious one. Get your hands on a car or scooter that the renter doesn’t mind you taking off the island. Or, if you are in a group or family a car or van and driver would be a better choice.
First up, turning off the main highway well before Chantaburi we took the road heading to Laem Sing, where Oasis Seaworld and the dancing dolphins can be found, we bypassed those and headed to a couple of small historical signs close to the old harbour area – a French officers quarters and also French jail – remnants of the French occupation of this area of Thailand 110 years ago.
Then over the big bridge across the estuary mouth, towards Chao Lao beach, the busiest of the beaches in the Chantaburi area. It’s a typical Thai beach resort which is virtually dead during the week and packed at weekends. Plenty of accommodation from a few hundred baht a night upwards. North of Cha Lao you reach Kung Vimarn beach which is where a small, but free, aquarium is located. Plenty of places to eat by the beach in this area too.
It was time to head back towards Chantaburi town, making a stop at the National Maritime Museum on the way. Cost me 50 Baht to go in, although the sign said 100 Baht for foreigners. It wasn’t too busy, saw four other people there. There again, there isn’t a whole lot to see as Thailand’s navy hasn’t done much apart from being sunk by the French and I don’t think an exhibition built around that would go down well, but the life size mock up of the Chinese junk is pretty impressive and entirely uncontroversial. The museum is located in an old fort, climb up onto the ramparts and you’ll see they are lined with canons dating from late 18th century onwards. Most either British or French going off the inscriptions that are still legible.
Next was a quick lunch stop at some noodle shop before heading off to Chantaburi cathedral, the largest Catholic church in Thailand. This has recently been renovated and well worth a stop even if you aren’t into holy places. As well as the grandeur of the stained glass windows and bling encrusted Mary, little things such as the slot for ‘Donations for the poor’ being virtually at floor level, right at the very bottom of the donations box, so anyone wanting to give money to someone less well off has to get down on their hands and knees, are also interesting to note. Easy to park around the back of the church near the river.
The footbridge at the rear of the cathedral leads across the river to ‘old Chantaburi’ an area of riverside which, for the past 3 years, the local tourist authority has been trying to promote. Despite the fact the outside world doesn’t know a whole lot about it – there is a lot of good printed material available in English, from walking route maps to a detailed architectural guide on the style of building and their significance. The aim is to get residents to keep the original facades of their 100+ year old houses and develop the area for visitors so they can get a glimpse into how a riverside town might have looked, but also be able to enjoy a cappuccino in a tastefully decorated coffeeshop whilst Facebooking photos of themselves outside ‘authentic’ old buildings. Some of the old houses have been renovated, others are being fixed up. Many remain in a state of disrepair and looking as though they haven’t seen a lick of paint in a century. And there is one stretch that is occupied by run down concrete shophouses. These were built 30 years ago to replace wooden homes that burned down in a fire and look like crap. Might be an idea to burn them down too.
After a pleasant walk it was time to get back in the car and head back to Koh Chang, making a quick stop at Robinson’s on the way.
Other places we could have gone include:
Gem Street: A narrow street in the centre of the town, lined with old shophouses where gem traders from around the world meet around glass topped tables to buy & sell their wares. If you know your stones you can pick up bargains here, if not just watch proceedings from a safe distance.
Phlio Waterfall is located just off the main road, visit on your way back from Chantaburi. Famous for having huge numbers of fish which love to eat green beans fed to them by visitors. Avoid the weekends.
King Thaksin’s shipyard, where remains of ships built centuries ago were discovered. (OK – maybe not that thrilling.)
Phairee Phinat Fort – where you’ll see loads of monkeys and remnants of a French fort and cemetery complete with a couple of huge cannons which would surely have been stolen and melted down years ago in any other country.
The Chantaburi wikipedia page will give you some more ideas for places to Google and LaemSing.com is also an excellent source of info in English on the area with way more detail than I have included on this page.